MURRAY, KY (KFVS) - Three graduate students are currently attending Murray State University as Fulbright scholars, a prestigious opportunity in academia for high-achieving students with demonstrated leadership abilities.
Fulbright is an American scholarship program that offers opportunities for recent graduates and graduate students to research, study and teach in more than 140 countries. Since President Harry Truman signed the program into law in 1946, more than 325,000 individuals from around the world have participated with several alumni of the program receiving Pulitzer and Nobel prizes in addition to others achieving great success in their careers.
"The Fulbright exchange program is comprised of outstanding individuals who demonstrate a record of academic and professional achievement in their fields," said Dr. Don Robertson, vice president for student affairs at Murray State. "They are among the brightest students from their home countries and show a strong desire to share their experiences with others."
All three Fulbright scholars at Murray State are pursuing master's degrees in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. The students include José Torres of Santa Ana, El Salvador; Lily Shaekhova of Kazan in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia; and Naser Maliar of Herat, Afghanistan.
"I applied to the Fulbright program seeking academic preparation that will help me become a future English teacher in my own country," said Torres, who earned a bachelor's degree in education from Universidad Católica de El Salvador.
According to Torres, one aspect of life at Murray State that he enjoys most is the opportunity to network both with other students and with professionals in the field.
"The involvement in a great international student community has given me a chance to grow as a person," Torres said. "Learning from my classmates about different cultures made me open up my mind to see how diverse our world is."
In his time at Murray State, Torres has served as the vice president for the Student TESOL Organization on campus and has been an active member of the International Student Organization, hosting a booth about El Salvador during International Education Week and carrying his national flag during the Homecoming parade. Torres also participated in the regional KYTESOL Conference held in Louisville. It was his first time leading a workshop at an international level.
"Based on my experience, learning does not only happen inside the classroom," Torres said. "Instead, it happens when talking to people and sharing ideas."
Like Torres and Maliar, Shaekhova hopes to teach English as a foreign language upon completing the Fulbright program. She earned her bachelor's degree in English philology, the study of linguistics and literature, from Kazan Federal University. During a visit to the U.S. in 2015, Shaekhova witnessed several successful models of multilingual education that sparked ideas for how she could implement similar models in Russia. The cultural component of the Fulbright experience was one of the many reasons Shaekhova decided to apply for the program.
"As a future educator, I wanted to be a part of cultural bridge-building and to learn and experience the life of Americans, whose language I planned to teach," Shaekhova said. "Through this Fulbright program, I can further develop my ability to engage in cultural exchanges both inside and outside Russia."
Shaekhova is in her second semester at Murray State. In addition to her coursework, Shaekhova worked as a tutor in the English as a Second Language (ESL) Center on campus and has started working as a graduate assistant in her department to gain further experience as an educator.
"Every class I take is essential to my future career," Shaekhova said. "All of my professors help me in identifying myself as a teacher, developing my strengths and working on my weaknesses."
For Maliar, who earned a bachelor's degree in English language and literature from Herat University in addition to completing a 10-week enrichment program for young English teachers at Purdue University, being a Fulbright scholar is a valuable, life-changing opportunity.
It was an emotional moment for Maliar and his family when he received news that he'd been selected as a Fulbright scholar, he recalled. It was also a responsibility he took seriously.
"They expect us to bring big changes in return, which gives me a sense of pride and responsibility that I will be able to bring changes for my people," Maliar said.
In the time since arriving at Murray State, Maliar has enjoyed being a part of the International Student Organization and getting to know the community.
"It is a small university in a small town, but it has the biggest and best people," Maliar said.
In addition to welcoming Fulbright scholars to Murray State's campus, Bryant Powell, '16, and Ashley Winkler, '11, are two Murray State alumni who previously participated in the Fulbright program in Belgium and Spain, respectively.